Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends
We’re so glad you could attend, come inside, come inside
Emerson, Lake and Palmer — Karn Evil 9 (1st Impression Pt. 2)

When you get tagged as your groups resident Game Master, you often get the “Hey, what are you running next?” question. While its good to get lots of practice and mastery at the Game Mastering craft, its also good to sit on the other side of the screen every so often. Here’s why.

1. It always feels different on the other side of the screen.
We forget that GMs often have the big picture and that things are more evident. LIke a movie audience we see the things going on that the players don’t.  Too much time spent like this and you start to forget that those clues aren’t going to be evident to your players or that they’re not going to be on the lookout for the ambush because its so obvious. Oh well, they should have rolled spot checks, it was a dark wood and hard to see in. They should have been on their guard. Oh wait, you forgot to describe the wood as dark and hard to see in. That’s why they didn’t light torches…Players only have a flashlight, and thus are more prone to miss things. As the Game Master, you’ve got your 150 watt bulb and can tend to be blinded by it.

2. GMing is fun, but its nothing like playing.
NPC actions always have a purpose for the greater good of the story. Character actions only focus on the character, and his goal. They aren’t forced or required. While some of us enjoy the art of creating a world more than playing, playing is still less stressful, less work and tends to be more immediately satisfying. Its good to get that little break and prevent GM burnout. If you think of the GM/Player relationship as one of movie maker/movie goer, then you can understand how rewarding it is to make a great movie, but also how enjoyable it is to just sit back, watch and get inspired by someone elses work.

3. Playing makes us less limiting as GMs.
As I was playing in a friend’s game, I realized that there were places where I totally wanted things to just go my way. I didn’t want to lose the speech challenge with the head of the security force,  I wanted to be cool and talk my way past this obviously scripted combat. As GMs we try to keep a sense of challenge and difficulty, but as players we try to make our characters into the people that we want them to be. Character failure is inevitable, and it shouldn’t be dismissed, but there are certain areas where characters should just come out awesome. It’s a lot harder for GMs to see that when they haven’t played for a while. We feel like the player’s enjoyment is tied up in the twists and turns of the plot, the overcoming of the obstacles in pre-defined ways and the reaching of certain waypoints at exactly the right time. Really, the players want to have fun, and they tell you, in oh so subtle mannerisms, when they aren’t. If you spend some time as a player you can pick up on your own mannerisms, and then on theirs.

4. Someone else gets to try out the GM’s seat.
People who get good at GMing are often stuck GMing. I was my group’s defacto GM until I got some other people interested in running their own games. In some of these attempts the game often got handed off to me to complete, after they burned out, in some of the attempts the new GM took the reigns and ran for a looong time. No matter how it goes, getting the players to try something different helps the entire group.  They learn about what it takes to GM, they pick up on new skills and you get to play for a while. One thing I’ve noticed about groups with lots of GMs in them is that they tend to be more experimental and open to new game types.

5. Most importantly, it reminds us that the Game is actually there for the players, but that GMs are players too.
If you’re an experienced GM and you get to watch a noob GM step up to the plate, you realize that there are things you could be doing, as a GM, for your players fun, and that there are things they could be doing for your fun. If you let them pull off more things, they might get into your story more, because they feel they have more of a hand in it.  When it comes down to it, GMs are players too, and its the fun of the people at the table, and not their roles that is important.

So, long term GMs, when was the last time you played?  Does your group switch out every so often? What other lessons have you got from switching sides of the screen?